Transcript: Philip Himberg’s remarks to the Medal Day crowd on July 10, 2022 and his introduction of Presentation Speaker Novelist Walter Mosley.
Good afternoon. Welcome everyone to this splendid occasion, when at long last, we are assembled in real space and time, the way human beings are meant to be together, side by side, and in celebration. I actually see today as a kind of Jubilee as we emerge into this daylight to remind us all of art’s power to transform the world.
We are here to offer our esteem and gratitude to an artist among us. Sonia Sanchez. Ms. Sanchez is a singular voice – yet a voice profoundly woven into the tapestry of our country, our world. With power and grace in her words and actions, Ms. Sanchez imprints her vision, her advocacy, her exquisite language into the creative landscape of humankind – and we are the beneficiaries of that inspiration.
Sonia, we are here to rejoice in the influence of your art, which arouses in us how we imagine being our most human selves. And of course, this vision will move forward to inform and enlighten and inspire endless new generations of poets and art lovers. This is what the Edward MacDowell Medal is all about. Sonia - we are here to thank you for sharing with us, the art of your words.
I met many of you for the first time, right here in 2019, our last fully public Medal Day, and my first year as Executive Director of MacDowell, when we honored artist Charles Gaines. As we joined together three years back, we had not a clue just what would be arriving down the pike only seven months later. The expectations of our universe have been turned quite upside down. The Pandemic and a social justice movement that ignited us powerfully after the tragic murder of George Floyd – all of this and more continues to touch every single one of us.
But these changes did more than just touch MacDowell. World events catalyzed us and transformed us and continue to do so in crucial ways. If you visit our updated website, you will find provocative and inspiring essays by MacDowell Fellows: about how they see MacDowell’s vitality at this time. And you can also read a revived and vibrant expression of our community’s CORE VALUES.
In March 2020, our campus was closed for about seven months. It was the first closure since 1938 when a hurricane swept through Peterborough. And then under the guidance of Resident Director David Macy, with the support and professional advice of a MacDowell Fellow who is an epidemiologist and writer, we were able to swing open the gates – with safety measures in place. We are proud to say that we have hosted over 314 artists in residence since October 2020 through today.
These include: 139 writers, 40 visual artists, 35 theatre artists, 23 interdisciplinary artists, 33 filmmakers, 28 composers, and 16 architects
And today, we are just about at full capacity. There is no way this would be possible without the most extraordinary staff. While our MacDowell New York-based personnel continued and continues to find ways to support and fund fellowships during a time of great challenge and to create new online ways for MacDowell supporters to convene with our Fellows, the MacDowell New Hampshire staff pivoted endlessly to assure that each and every artist truly found their temporary home here in Peterborough, a place where they could engage with this natural beauty and with their imaginations. A place they could take risks, make mistakes, invent and forge new work. It has not been an easy chapter. And so may we take a moment to applaud the entire staff of MacDowell for their always vigilant, always smart, endlessly flexible, sensitive and celebratory dedication to Artists and to the freedom to create.
And today, we are here also because of the extraordinary work of our Board of Directors. Under the leadership of President Andy Senchak and Madame Chairman Nell Painter – our Board collaborates to assure the sustainability of MacDowell far into the future.
Today would not be possible either without the Medal Day selection committee led by Fellow Claudia Rankine, Board member Vijay Seshadri, Erica Hunt, Nuar Alsadir, Jericho Brown, and David St. John.
Also thanks to our Medal Day host committee and event partners (who are listed in your programs) including business sponsors and community partners SVB Private, The Poetry Foundation, Welch and Forbes, Rivermead, The Peterborough Town Library, Beacon Press, Delta Dental, Melanson, Millyard Bank, BCM Environmental Land and Law, The Putnam Family Foundation, and so many others.
And we are here because of all of you - our friends, our neighbors, supporters and donors, you who champion MacDowell. And it is our artist fellows who also define who we are - by inventing and innovating.
And since we last met on these grounds, the institution of MacDowell has also invented and innovated. We have created Virtual MacDowell – month-long on-line conclaves of our artist fellows representing the vast landscape of how art is made across a far-reaching universe of artist communities. So far, six “Virtual MacDowells” have helped us plan our future. And there are more iterations to come . . . Today we all stand with you, proud of MacDowell, and its resilience. We remain a cultural institution whose mission remains steadfast, acknowledging that we are always a work in process, and that we will always uphold our being curious to the vital questions before us.
Questions like: How do we assure that we are an arts organization prepared for an elusive future – and that we are not “institutionally removed” from the stunning, in fact, breathtaking cultural mosaic that defines our country, our world, our core stakeholders and contributors?
All of us are building a bridge from a time of bewilderment into one hope for the future. We are traveling a distance from what has felt often like darkness into light – with the creative spirit of risk-taking as our pilot lamp.
We know that the darkness of night - that thing that frightens children and adults - is but one aspect of the natural world, inextricably bound to the dawn. And we also know that night - in and of itself - has provided an endless source of inspiration for artists. We may be afraid of the dark, yet darkness provides an environment for the freedom and transgressions that offer fertile ground for endless innovation. Art invites us to traverse a nocturnal space - one which contains powerful seeds, a place which is ripe for the imagination - for dreams and for visions of the pathways ahead. We are learning that we need not be afraid of what we do not yet know. Artists exemplify this way of being.
In an interview Sonia Sanchez once said: “It is that love of language that has propelled me, that love of language that came from listening to my grandmother speak black English… It is that love of language that says, simply, to the ancestors who have done this before you, ‘I am keeping the love of life alive, the love of language alive. I am keeping words that are spinning on my tongue and getting them transferred on paper. I’m keeping this great tradition of American poetry alive.’”
Here at MacDowell, we will continue to find ways to enliven our gates of accessibility as wide as can be - to the most talented artists making work across the vast spectrum of our world. We are here to ensure a process: that the ongoing body of work of established art makers as well as potent new voices, yet to be discovered, is always the beating heart of our mission.
Thank you, Sonia - and thank you all for being here today.
I was fortunate to cross paths with Walter Mosley where he was an esteemed advisor to the Sundance Institute Theatre Labs. He is the author of 21 critically acclaimed books and his work has been translated into more than 20 languages. His popular mysteries featuring Easy Rawlins include Devil in a Blue Dress, Six Easy Pieces, and Little Scarlet. Two movies have been made from his work including Devil in A Blue Dress and Always Outnumbered. Mr. Mosley has won numerous awards including an O. Henry Award, a Sundance Institute Risk-taker Award, and a Lifetime Achievement Award by PEN USA. Mr. Mosley created a new publishing degree program aimed at young urban residents at The City College of New York - the only such program in the country. Mosley served on the board of directors of the National Book Awards and on the boards of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, the Poetry Society of America, and TransAfrica. He is past-president of the Mystery Writers of America. We welcome you Walter back to MacDowell where you were a Fellow.
Watch the full speech on YouTube
Read the transcripts of each Medal Day 2022 speaker:
Madam Chairman Nell Painter's Welcome to the Medal Day Crowd
Novelist Walter Mosley Introduced Sonia Sanchez as a Poet, Playwright, Songstress, Titan, Warrior, and Mother to Hope
Poet Sonia Sanchez Accepts the 2022 MacDowell Medal Before 1,000 Fans